Monday, January 05, 2009

Missouri's Guard, Adjutant Gen. King Sidwell has been accused of discrimination on the basis of race and gender.
More than a dozen members of the Missouri National Guard have accused their top general of discrimination on the basis of race and gender.

In the past two months, two high-ranking personnel officers have filed federal discrimination complaints alleging that the top general in Missouri's Guard, Adjutant Gen. King Sidwell, discriminates against women and blacks.

And 13 black members of the Missouri Guard have complained to the NAACP that Sidwell has "fostered a climate of institutional discrimination."

The allegations come seven years after a study of the Guard's racial climate criticized the organization for deficiencies in the promotion of minorities and women.

"Under Gen. Sidwell, it's my perception that unless your skin is the same color as his, you're not qualified to be part of the key staff," said Lt. Col. James Tate, one of the Soldiers to sign a letter of complaint to the NAACP.

The federal complaints, one filed by Tate, the other by a white female, allege that Sidwell and his chief of staff, Col. Glenn Hagler, passed over qualified Black and female officers for promotion in favor of less qualified white males.

Sidwell and Hagler acknowledge that some complaints in the NAACP letter involve situations that were "handled poorly" by management.

The general and his top aide, however, zealously defend themselves against the allegations made in the equal opportunity complaints, asserting that the two Soldiers were probably unhappy because they didn't get jobs they wanted.

Sidwell said he always offered employees an open door.

"I don't want anybody to feel an impediment in coming forward to me," he said. "I encourage people to ... tell me if they think something needs to be fixed in the system."

'This is my life'

One of the federal complaints was filed by Lt. Col. Nancy Jones, the Guard's top advisor on discrimination allegations.

Jones, who is white, said she was passed over for a job as the head of human resources for the Guard in favor of a white man who didn't apply for the job and had no experience in human resources.

A 30-year veteran of the military, Jones was one of four applicants for the position. She was the only woman and the only applicant to have human resources experience. Jones has worked in the field for 13 years and said she had received high marks for her work.

She said that when she was passed over for a white male with less experience, she sought an explanation from Sidwell.

"The adjutant general said to me: 'Nancy, this is not about you being a woman. It's that John Oberkirsch is the next person I want to promote.' That was his answer," Jones said. "He genuinely doesn't see it. In my opinion, he doesn't see women in the same leadership capacity as he sees men."

Jones, who is 51, said she agonized over whether to file her complaint. She's a self-described "military brat," the daughter of a retired Air Force officer. Her husband is a lieutenant colonel in the Missouri Air National Guard, based in St. Louis.

"I've been in the military over 30 years," she said. "To lodge a complaint is a very, very difficult thing for me to do. This is my life. I love the military."

Sidwell sticks by the answer he gave Jones. He said the person he hired, Oberkirsch, was from a field unit, which added to his credibility. Sidwell and Hagler said they wanted somebody from outside human resources to fix what they said was a broken department.

"The selection of the position she wanted was not based upon sex. It was based upon other management needs," Sidwell said. "I put females in position of responsibility."

Gov. Matt Blunt appointed Sidwell to his post in 2005. Sidwell is a lawyer and engineer who lives in Sikeston. He has applied with Gov.-elect Jay Nixon to keep his position as adjutant general under the next administration.

Order of merit?

The 13 Black Soldiers who complained to the NAACP allege that Sidwell and Hagler also discriminate against minorities seeking promotion.

In a letter to Nimrod Chapel, the president of the Jefferson City branch of the NAACP, the Soldiers point to several instances where black officers were passed over for promotion in favor of white counterparts who, the letter says, were less qualified.

"When we've attempted to address these issues with the leadership," the letter says, "we're consistently met with barriers, roadblocks and excuses."

On Dec. 1, Tate filed a complaint with the inspector general of the Department of Defense outlining what he calls a pattern of discrimination against both Blacks and women under Sidwell and Hagler.

Tate, the deputy director of personnel for the Guard, lists six examples of alleged discrimination against blacks or women in his complaint, including the Guard's decision to bypass him for promotion to colonel despite a unanimous recommendation from the Career Management Board.

Sidwell and Hagler told the Post-Dispatch they believed Tate's complaint was filed as retaliation against them for promoting another African-American, Larry Spruill, to become the first Black colonel in the Missouri Army Guard's history.

"The complaint wasn't filed until after (Spruill) was hired," Sidwell said in an interview in his office Tuesday. "This was a reaction to the Spruill hire."

But Sidwell had the time line wrong. The letter to the NAACP was written in October, and Tate filed his complaint about a week before the Career Management Board met to consider Spruill's promotion.

Spruill didn't qualify for the promotion under typical standards, Sidwell said. He has not yet been deemed colonel-worthy by a national promotion board. Spruill had not commanded a battalion or attended War College. And he wasn't on the state's order of merit list, which is used in determining promotions.

So why was Spruill promoted?

"Affirmative action," Sidwell said.

In a letter sent through his public information officer after his interview, Sidwell says Tate was 29th on an order of merit list and junior in grade, while Spruill is an advisor to the assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs at the Pentagon and is senior in grade.

Sidwell called Spruill a "high-quality" officer who came "highly recommended."

There is nothing in the Guard's affirmative action policy that either allows or directs Soldiers to be promoted on the basis of their race. The policy instead is a series of directives aimed at making sure Guard leadership takes equal opportunity seriously. In fact, the policy makes it clear that race should not be a factor in promotions.

This is not the first time Tate has complained of racism in the Missouri National Guard.

In 2000, he filed an equal opportunity complaint with the Guard over his alleged mistreatment while stationed in Fulton. The National Guard Bureau in Washington sustained his complaint. At the time, four Missouri Guard officers were punished over their mishandling of his complaint.

The NAACP also intervened in that case, and as a result the National Guard Bureau ordered a private firm to perform a study of the Guard's racial climate in Missouri. The study found that minorities were poorly represented in the Missouri Guard's officer ranks and that women and minorities were poorly represented in management or officer ranks.

The Guard has made some progress since then.

In 2000, for instance, only 7.6 percent of officers in the Missouri Army National Guard were minorities. Today that number is 11.7 percent. But that is still below Missouri's Census count for minorities -- about 15 percent -- a level Sidwell said he'd like to see improve.

But for Blacks the numbers haven't changed much, particularly at higher levels of the Guard. In 2005, there were 44 black officers in the Guard. Today, there are 38. And only three of those are in command positions, down from four in 2005

Mislabeled file

Lt. Col. Greg Mason, one of the 13 Soldiers who signed the recent letter to the NAACP, has been in the National Guard either full-time or part-time for 30 years.

Mason, 51, spent most of his civilian life in the Missouri Highway Patrol. He's served tours of duty in Bosnia and Iraq. In March, Mason was passed over for a promotion in favor of Lt. Col. North Charles, who is white, even though Mason had much more experience.

Mason is a graduate of the Army War College. Charles is not. Mason has led a battalion and been deployed. Charles hasn't.

Mason's first inkling of a problem was when Tate, the deputy director of personnel in the Guard, told him his personnel file seemed to be mislabeled.

To be promoted to colonel, Guard Soldiers must have received positive evaluations from their supervisors, who decide whether they are a "must promote" candidate.

In his evaluation in Sept. 2004, Mason was rated as "above center of mass," which qualified him for promotion to colonel. On the evaluation, Gen. Michael Pace wrote, "LTC Mason should be promoted at the earliest opportunity and be placed in a position of even greater responsibility."

But that evaluation, both Tate and Mason say, at some point was mislabeled in Mason's file to indicate that he was not qualified for promotion to colonel. Tate, who was transferred to the Jefferson City headquarters after a 3-year-tour as the commander at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, said he noticed the error while Mason was deployed to Iraq.

By then, Sidwell already had promoted Charles.

The Guard declined to provide Charles' evaluations, so it is impossible to know how they compare with Mason's.

Asked if he believed race played a role in Sidwell's promotion decisions, Mason said he couldn't know for sure.

"The only one who would know that is Gen. Sidwell," Mason said. "My issue is not being given the same opportunity as Charles. I don't begrudge him."

Sidwell said he was aware of the mislabeling problem with Mason's file. He said the mistake occurred at the National Guard Bureau in Washington.

Mason and Tate say they don't see the same problems with race and promotion in other parts of the country that they see in the Show-Me State.

"Being at the War College, you get to meet a lot of people from all over the country," Mason said. "When they hear that Missouri has never had a Black colonel, they're very surprised."

"In terms of race," Tate said, "Missouri is so far behind the curve it's shameful."

Letter dispute

In the military, promotions are supposed to be based on a specific system of merit, with checks and balances in place to guard against discrimination.

Tate, 41, argues to the Department of Defense's inspector general that the evidence shows he has jumped through all the proper hoops to be a colonel, but that Sidwell, for some reason, simply won't promote him.

It's "very much like the 'good ole boy' system being revived," Tate's complaint alleges.

His most recent officer evaluation report, signed by Sidwell, said Tate should be promoted to colonel "immediately."

"Outstanding officer with excellent potential matched by performance," the report stated. Tate was ranked "above center of mass." He should be "promoted ahead of his peers," the evaluation stated.

On March 18, the three-person Career Management Board -- which must approve all senior officer promotions -- discussed several lieutenant colonel promotions, including Tate's. The board unanimously approved promoting Tate to his new position at headquarters. As part of the move he would be promoted to colonel in October, according to his complaint, and the recommendation was provided to Sidwell for final approval.

Sidwell, Tate's complaint says, approved all of the board's decisions except for the one related to Tate.

Sidwell said the Career Management Board was wrong to promise a "future" promotion. That's why he didn't approve Tate's move to colonel, he said.

The general didn't hide his disdain for Tate.

"Why have I got a lieutenant colonel who is responsible for personnel soliciting a signature to make a complaint that he should be communicating and he should be solving?" said Sidwell, referring to Tate's involvement in the NAACP letter.

Sidwell said Tate should have brought the complaints to him directly. "That was not done."

Tate said he followed the chain of command and took his issues to Hagler, the chief of staff and Sidwell's top aide. Hagler confirmed that he had had many conversations with Tate about equal opportunity issues, including Tate's own promotion. Hagler also said he took some of those issues to Sidwell.

Hagler and Sidwell say the letter complaining to the NAACP is an acceptable way for Soldiers to complain about equal opportunity. After the Guard's issues with discrimination seven years ago, the Guard instituted a policy of quarterly meetings with the local NAACP president and the adjutant general.

Black Soldiers are told that if they have concerns about racial issues that it is within their rights to discuss them with Chapel, and he will, in turn, bring those issues to Sidwell.

That's precisely what the black Soldiers intended with the letter delivered to Chapel in October, said several Soldiers who signed the letter.

But Sidwell said Chapel never gave him the letter. The general said he would have addressed some of the issues earlier had he received it.

On Friday, the Guard released a letter Chapel wrote to Sidwell a day earlier commending the general for his good communication and "positive relationship" with the NAACP.

But when a reporter asked Chapel whether he had received the letter alleging discrimination, he was unclear. He said he hadn't seen "a letter signed by 13 Soldiers in the Missouri National Guard." Asked if he received any letter substantially like the one the Post-Dispatch obtained, he refused to answer.

Hagler and Sidwell suggest they're the victims in this dispute.

"I'm personally destroyed by this," Hagler said.

He said he believed there were some members of the Missouri Guard who didn't take to his form of management, in part because he came to his position from the National Guard Bureau, instead of climbing the Missouri ranks.

Hagler said he and Sidwell were being criticized because some Guard members had had their "club membership revoked."

Sidwell said he didn't believe he discriminated against Tate or Jones or anybody else.

"I don't care about race, sex or national origin," the general said. "I care about who does the job."

Tate said he felt as if he had spent the past several months trying to advance his military career while being stymied by Sidwell and Hagler every step of the way.

"They have simply stonewalled the process," Tate said. "You kind of see the goalposts get moved back with each passing month."



Blogger ichbinalj said...

Bill_Fold said: What's this? An important story about a racially motivated complaint (by so many people) against a Hometown General, from his Hometown Newspaper no less, in Missouri no less, and a rather well researched one at that?

Guess nobody can blame the AP for this one.

Perhaps they CAN blame this soon to be former active-duty reserve General... since the story seems to have merit, and he seems to be in a little bit of DENIAL...?

1:11 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

kriegen88 said: So let me get this straight. On one hand race and gender ARE not to be considered when promoting. On the other hand it is encouraged to promote minorities. The miltary constantly gets heckeled about their not being enough "minority" personel in high ranking positions, but they are not encouraged to promote based on race and gender. So which is it I wonder? Usally the ones complaining about race and gender, are the only ones that see things via race or gender. If your FitRep stinks, can't pass a TS clearance or whatever you have to accept it that someone else was more qualified. These crying few must think that being Black or a women is qualification enough these days. Its a sad state of affairs.

1:13 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

2536349 said: I am a former member of the Missouri National guard. I am now in another state. I had Lt Col Tate as both a MP company and battalion commander. I have to say that I am a white soldier and do agree that there is a good old boy system in the state of Missouri. Once the career management board meets, and the Federal Recognition boards announces promotions, the AG should not be able to hold up those promotions. As for Lt Col Mason, he was at one time in charge of recruiting and retention in the state but was dismissed for no reason after only serving in that position for a couple of months to be replaced with a "good ole boy" officer that did not care about the quality of recruits that were entering the Missouri National Guard. I think in my own experience at MO State HQ, that there is much discrimination of qualified personnel, but those that are not qualified are up and comers.

1:15 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

pottsy said: Something here stinks. Gen Sidwell of course seems to have an answer for everything. I think that the matter should be investigated by an outside independant authority with the power to ensure that whatever its recommendations are, that those recommendations be put into place. If the officer's allegations are found to have substance (which it appears they may well do) then Gen Sidwell and party should be moved at the very least. The complainants should then have the wrong, righted. I am white, but one thing I abhor is discrimination on race or sex grounds.May the best man or woman, get the job.

1:16 PM  

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